Hands-on with Marvel Heroes: characters, crafting and more
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to fly out to San Francisco to visit Gazillion Entertainment's office. I was there to see the changes to Marvel Heroes -- a top-down action game in the mold of Diablo II. The man at the helm revolutionized that style of game, as David Brevik (CEO of Gazillion) made Diablo II. So it only makes sense that Marvel Heroes feels like a spiritual successor when you play it, all while having its own flavor.
While visiting Gazillion, I was given an inside look at the creation process behind the game, got to play high-level content with any character I wanted, tried the new crafting system, and just plain had fun. Here's what I took away from the game...
Great attention to detail
Gazillion is bringing the Marvel universe to life in a way that's never been attempted. The developers are drawing upon every medium to design the world and the characters within it. Let's take Iron Man as an example. The team has hi-res assets of all of the Iron Man suits from the films. Then, through a lot of meticulous work, they bring it down to a scale and resolution that works with their animations and the game. Movies aren't the only thing that the team draws upon to design the characters and their skins. From comics to cartoons, everything within the Marvel universe is at their disposal.
I can't stress enough the amount of care that is going into Marvel Heroes. The team is made up of Marvel fans. Just sit down with them and talk comics, and you'll see what true fans they really are. So it makes sense that the details into character animations, art design, level design and costumes are so extremely high.
A custom, well-crafted story
With Marvel Heroes, you're not getting a rehashed comic book storyline. The Chief Writer of the original story is Brian Michael Bendis. Bendis is one of the premiere architects of the Marvel Comics Ultimate Universe, which is a line of comics created for a new generation of comics reader. He's had his hand in the Marvel movies -- from Thor to The Avengers -- and has worked on a myriad of Marvel comics (Ultimate Spider-Man, New Avengers, House of M, Secret Invasion, Avengers vs X-Men). If anyone was going to be tasked with creating an original story for Marvel Heroes, it's hard to find better than Bendis.
The basis of the story in Marvel Heroes is this: The Cosmic Cube is a device of untold power, capable of changing the very fabric of reality at the whim of its possessor. In the possession of Dr. Doom, he aims to reshape the world in his own image with the Cosmic Cube. He's lined up villainous allies to prevent the super heroes from interfering. It's up to heroes like Iron Man, Spider-man, Cyclops, Wolverine, Storm, The Hulk and more to stop him.
The story takes you from the streets of Hell's Kitchen to take on Kingpin, to Xavier's mansion. Along the way, you'll battle against and meet iconic characters from Marvel. Somehow, Bendis makes them all blend together into one giant Marvel smoothie.
Attributes actually make a difference
During the last beta we played, we wrote about the changes to the user interface (UI), crafting and attributes. The UI is sleek and improved, including a new 3D map, and the crafting I'll get to in a moment. The most important change is to the way attributes are handled.
There are six attributes: durability, strength, fighting skills, speed, energy projection and intelligence. Each hero's ratings for each attribute is taken straight from Marvel, so each character is accurate. Each attribute has seven possible points, and each point you assign into it (over what it's currently at) has a great effect on your character. Simply having two points in an attribute means you're average; having less will give you negative effects. For instance, if you have less than two point in intelligence, you'll receive less experience towards leveling up.
There's benefits with having more than two points in an attribute. Let's take strength, for instance. The more strength you have, not only will it affect your damage, but it'll affect how you interact with objects in the environment. Get a certain amount of strength and you could pick up a car with one hand to throw at a group of enemies. Every single point of an attribute comes with benefits, making each decision very important.
A deep crafting system
CEO David Brevik has coined the newly implemented crafting system the Horadric Cube 2.0. It's not the actual name of the crafting system, but it is an evolved version of the Horadric Cube from Diablo II. It follows the mold of mixing certain components together, except Marvel Heroes helps you by giving you the recipes. You get crafting components from enemy drops. Using the crafting system, you combine three of a certain type of lesser component into a single better one. Ultimately, you visit a crafting vendor -- Forge was the vendor in Xavier's Mansion -- to craft items. Now instead of selling items to a particular vendor, you can donate your items -- sacrificing the money to level up the vendor. Think of it as increasing your standing so that new recipes become available.
Don't worry, even though the crafting vendor you interact with in the first level isn't the same as the one in the fourth level, it's vendor level will carry over. What's great is that you can also level up costumes through crafting, assigning power cores that enhance the costume. This can increase the value of a skill or attribute, essentially making each costume a bit of a loadout.
It's a really deep system that'll take quite a while to master, which is good for a game like this.
But how does it play?
The idea of a Marvel MMO is quite exciting, but it would have to be executed the right way. To ease worries, it is completely free-to-play. Yes, there are microtransactions, but the entire game and story are playable without the need to ever spend a dollar. The only things that you would spend money on are different costumes for heroes, but you can attain those through drops. There's probably going to be experience boosts, but those were all disabled during my playthrough.
As an MMO, you should expect to play with others. Missions and boss fights will often require a group of four. Let's just say, you don't want to take on The Kingpin on your own. Even traveling in zones by yourself can be dangerous; there are tons of enemies with lots of aggro. This is a good thing; it encourages grouping and working with others -- something super heroes often do. The best part about the combat is the ability to switch your character at any moment. Don't feel like playing Punisher anymore? Or does your group need a tank? With the click of a button, you can switch to any other character you own whenever you want. And don't worry about grouping and not getting loot -- each player gets their own drops.
Each character can also be built differently. Another player's Spider-Man might be build around his ranged web attacks, while yours is built around his melee, close-combat attacks. There's a diversity here that gets better the more you play. There's no end in sight, either. Gazillion has over 8,000 characters to draw upon in the Marvel universe. Think of each hero as its own class, that's a lot of diversity. And no, Gambit isn't a playable character yet, but I did spot him in one of the safe areas. That means his skin is in the game... I'm onto you David Brevik...
Marvel Heroes is looking to dethrone the Torchlights and Diablos of PC gaming. With the promise of this game, combined with it being F2P, it might just do that.